Mark Pearl

As a leader, an important trait is making strong decisions. It’s an essential skill that involves analysing information effectively, assessing risks and benefits, and making a decision promptly.

The alternative to strong decision-making is indecision, which can create doubt and uncertainty, leading to a lack of focus. Also, I’ve seen it generate resentment and a culture of re-litigation on everything. Things you want to avoid.

But what happens when you make the wrong decision? Is it better to stick to it or unwind it? This is a question that I’ve grappled with for a while.

My thinking…

  • If you keep changing decisions, the environment you create is unstable, and people don’t thrive.
  • In many instances, the side effects of changing or not making a decision are worse than making a quick wrong decision.
  • Always question what the cost of change is. Will change cause more harm than being right?

Does that mean that once a decision is made, you should never go back on it? Not always. You want to be on the right path for material decisions, even if it means backtracking a few times.

For material decisions, if it becomes clear that the decision is wrong and causing more harm than good, it’s essential to unwind it.

This is simple to say but hard to get right.

  • Often, we don’t know the damage caused by a material decision until it has been realised.
  • Sometimes, harm can move really fast.

How do you undo a wrong decision? It depends.

I prefer to be transparent and call it out, admitting that I got it wrong and that we’re changing course. This works in many places, but not all - in some organisations admitting you were wrong can be career-limiting.

I’ve seen various techniques employed by different leaders. Some take the approach of gradually evolving the decision, so you don’t realise they have changed it. Others prefer to make a clean break and start again without recognising it’s a complete 180’ turn. Ultimately, the best approach depends on the situation, the organisational context and the leader.

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